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Friday, September 28, 2012

Home Stretch – American League

Earlier this week, on Wednesday the Hat Trick ran a piece on the playoff picture in the National League. While there were a number of combinations for seeding and the race in the National League East had yet to be sealed, there was only one unclenched playoff spot and only three teams realistically vying for that spot.

The American League was a completely different story. At that time, no American League team had so much as clinched a playoff birth. There were eight teams realistically fighting for the five playoff spots in the A.L.

The Contenders

Oh what a difference two days can make! Technically, no team has officially clinched a birth. However, the Texas Rangers are already assured of playing past the 162nd regular season game, clinch at least a Wild Card with a win over the Los Angeles Angles tonight, and would have to have a final week melt down of epic proportions to lose the A.L. West division title.

The New York Yankees are in a similar position. The A.L. East is anyone’s guess as the Baltimore Orioles are just a game back and the Tampa Bays Rays still have a pulse in the division, but Rays and Orioles meet in the final three games of the regular season. One team will either be swept or have its win/loss differential decrease by one. Either way, is all but assures that the Yankees will reach the postseason.

The following teams’ playoff destinies are a little less certain:

Jeter's face has changed a little, but the regular season's end destination of the playoffs is the same as it ever was. 1

Baltimore Orioles

They are in the driver’s seat of their playoff destiny, one game ahead for the top Wild Card spot and just one game back in the American League East race. Their three game series with the Tampa Bays Rays at the end of the season will likely decide where they end up in the playoffs.

The Orioles, all year, have been a team that do not do any one thing particularly well, but Manager Buck Showalter finds way to win night in and night out. One individual who has performed well all season is ace pitcher Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA), who is day-to-day with a knee injury. How far the O’s go in the playoffs could be decided by when he can come back to pitch.

Buck Showalter and Gary Allenson - Baltimore Orioles v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Showalter should be a slam dunk for A.L. Manager of the year. 2

Tampa Bay Rays

Monstrous pitching all year long has not been enough to acquire any playoff security for the Rays. As a team, the Rays do not hit well, but with Evan Longoria (.287, 14 HR, 50 RBI, 68 GP) back in the lineup after a prolonged injury earlier this season and the potent combination of speed and power hitting from centerfielder B.J. Upton (.246, 26 HR, 74 RBI, 30 SB), the Rays could make a run if they can slip into the postseason. I don’t think that anything short of a sweep against the Orioles will get Tampa into postseason baseball. Upton (163 SO) could be the key. He has got to exercise more discipline at the plate or his team could be watching the playoffs from home.

Detroit Tigers

Detroit took almost to the entire season to get into first place, where most people expected them to be since the beginning of the season. Detroit can’t take its foot off the gas, but with the hapless Minnesota Twins and lowly Kansas City Royals making up the remaining games on the Tigers’ schedule, they will have nobody to blame but themselves for losing the division.

I'll bet Prince Fielder thought he'd have more breathing room in September. 3
Chicago White Sox

Their Cinderella season is not going to have a storybook ending. With the departure of long time, 2005 World Series winning manager Ozzie Guillen along with ace pitcher Mark Buehrle to Miami, the Sox appeared to be headed for a 3rd place season. Robin Ventura will probably get them to second, but that won’t be good enough to reach the playoffs.

They have virtually no shot at the American League Wild Card. After having lost the first of a four game series with the hungry and desperate Tampa Bay Rays, I just don’t see where enough wins are going to come from to overtake the Tigers, who face the garbage and cupcakes of the American League in their final six games.

Oakland Athletics

Their chances of winning the A.L. West over the Texas Rangers are “slim to none” and “slim” was seen getting ready to leave the building. However, they control their destiny for the A.L. Wild Card. Right fielder Josh Reddick (.245, 31 HR, 81 RBI) is one of several A’s sluggers who take advantage of their opportunities to hit for power in spite of not being a very good contact hitter. The pitching has been “money” all year long, though the loss of Bartolo Colon (10-9, 3.43 ERA) to a PED suspension is going to hinder their efforts in October.

Their final six games are all at home – a three game series against the pitiful and sleepy Seattle Mariners and a three game series hosting a Texas Rangers team who may have locked up their division and the top seed in the American League playoffs before the series is over. It’s looking good for A’s fans.

Los Angeles Angels

The playoffs have effectively begun for the Angels. They can either put themselves in the playoffs, where they deserve to be after a season of exemplary hitting and excellent starting pitching. Or they can have one of the better seasons in the stat line but watch the playoffs from home.

I am sure television sponsors are chomping at the bit to see the team of MVP candidate Mike Trout (.320, 28 HR, 78 RBI) and former N.L. MVP Albert Pujols (.289, 30 HR, 102 RBI) in the playoffs. Their upcoming three game series against the Rangers will decide that. Take two of three against Texas and go to Seattle and sweep the lowly Mariners (with the Angels’ three best pitchers scheduled to start) and I think the Angels should make it in.

Of course, I am basically saying that if they win five of their last six, just two games back of the Wild Card as of today, that they get into the dance. That is not the boldest prediction, but it is very attainable.

The Angels series against the Rangers will likely decide whether Angels Fan will be watching Trout of fishing for trout in October. 4
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